Somerville, Massachusetts: Two Meals at Posto
I'm afraid I need to preface this review with a long-winded caveat: I was initially ready to give the pizza at Posto, a relatively new Neapolitan-style pizzeria located just outside Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts, a big thumbs down. I ate there for the first time a few weeks ago, and while I loved much of what I ate—especially the appetizers, which included a port-wine-aspic-blanketed chicken liver mousse that is sumptuous enough to deserve its own post—I was underwhelmed by the pizza. The toppings were very good, but the crust was decidedly lackluster. It had OK leopard-spotting and a nice flavor, but it was a little tough. A perfect Neapolitan pie should be verging on underbaked in the center—soupy even—mandating that it be eaten with a knife and fork. Instead, these pies were firm enough to eat with your hands. It was clear that the pizza had spent too long in an oven that wasn't nearly as hot as it needed to be.
Posto bakes its pies in a beautiful Mugnaini wood-fired oven, so there's no reason they shouldn't have been cooked at the requisite 900°F-plus temperatures. But when I asked the cook manning the oven that night what temperature it was running at, he kindly pointed his infrared thermometer at the deck for me, and it registered barely more than 500°F. There's your problem, I thought to myself, and resigned myself to having to write up yet another hopeful-but-ultimately-disappointing Slice review.
A few days later, I phoned up the chef-owner, Joe Casinelli, to get some background information on his recipes and the ingredients he uses. During the course of the conversation, he asked me what I had thought of the pizzas. I tried to be as generous as possible without revealing too much, but he could clearly tell from the tone of my voice that I hadn't loved them.
He then asked me which night I had come in, and when I told him, he said he wasn't surprised. For starters, he explained, it had been on a Sunday, his day off, and the one day of the week he doesn't personally man the oven. Moreover, he'd recently been having a problem with his wood supplier sending him wood that wasn't fully dried. Wet wood&mdash because it expends much of its energy driving off the moisture it contains—burns weakly, at best, and so he'd been having a bear of a time maintaining the temperature of the oven. All this he told me without a word from me about why I hadn't liked the pizzas or what I had learned in my interaction with the pizzaiolo-on-duty that night. Which is why when he asked me if I'd be willing to come back in to give the pizzas another try, I decided to hear him out. He'd since found a new source of wood, and the oven was running at the appropriate temperatures again. He said, come in tonight and I'll cook you whatever pies you want, made the way they should have been that night.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't want to undermine the objectivity of a review by commenting on food that had been cooked specifically for me, but this was different. First of all, he gave a plausible explanation for what had gone wrong that night. Second, the long conversation had made it clear to me that Joe wasn't just another pizza cook, he was a passionate, serious student of great pizza. In other words, he was—like me, along with most everyone else who hangs out regularly at Slice—a member of the tribe. He strives to use homemade ingredients, such as the 50 pounds of fior de latte he makes everyday, and makes sure the remainder are as good as they could be.
He had been tweaking his dough recipe whenever necessary to get and keep it just right, and—like most dedicated bakers and pizza makers—had been grappling with the fickle nature of dough fermentation from day to day and season to season. He's one of us, I thought, and I can't let a single meal determine the bottom line of my review, can I? No, I couldn't, I decided, and I told him that we'd be happy to taste the pizzas one more time. However, if I liked them, I warned him, I'd have to tell the tale exactly as it had happened, and not gloss over the story of those first pizzas. He agreed, and so back I went.
And the pizzas we had were as great as he told me they would be. This time around, the crust was deeply charred with blistered leopard spots along the exterior of the cornicione. And the pliable, faintly smoke-scented crust encased a moist interior crumb that was almost pillowy soft.
Since these pizzas were only in the oven for a few short minutes, most of the heat that they had seen had come down from the dome itself, leaving the underside of the pie far less charred than its edges. The relative coolness of the deck also left the center of the pizza just this side of raw, giving it precisely the knife-and-fork-required soupiness that is one hallmark of a true Neapolitan pie.
As I said above, the toppings used at Posto are top notch. The sauce used on the Margherita pie was nothing more than crushed San Marzano tomatoes and a little salt, making for a tart, slightly sweet base that didn't overpower the subtle flavors of the cheese. The homemade fior di latte—a better choice than the mozzarella di buffalo used at many Neapolitan places, since it doesn't release as much moisture as it cooks—was creamy and soft, with a nice saline edge.
The sausage pizza included roasted garlic, red onion, and fresh oregano. The sausage itself—satisfyingly coarse morsels of ground sausage meat spiced with a little fennel seed—is a blend made especially for Posto by Savenor's, one of the better butcher shops in Boston.
The brussels sprout pizza was especially improved with the oven cranked up to eleven. The first time we'd eaten it, the shredded brussels sprouts and the applewood smoked bacon were both a little raw, while the single egg at the pie's center had been overcooked and hard. This time around, the sprouts were tender and wilted, the bacon crisp, and—because it hadn't been in the oven but a few minutes—the yolk runny and bright, saucing the pie the way it was meant to when poked with the tip of a knife.
The bianco pizza was topped with fior di latte, asiago, and Parmesan cheeses, fresh basil, and sliced garlic. While the basil provided a fragrant contrast to the cheeses, we felt this pie, though tasty, could have used another bright element, to help cut through the pie's richness.
According to Joe, he usually finishes the bianco with baby arugula and lemon zest, exactly the kind of thing we had felt ours had lacked. (You might want to request it that way.)
So there you have it, my tale of two meals. Take my Posto recommendation—and I do recommend it highly—with a grain of salt, make sure Joe is in front of the oven when you do go, and be sure to tell him I sent you.
P.S. When you do eat at Posto, don't skip the chicken liver mousse with port wine aspic. It rocks. And that recommendation comes without caveats.